Destroy All Monsters
By 1968, Toho’s science fiction and giant monster films had enjoyed over a decade of popularity. However, the last few Godzilla films had seen a decline in ticket sales. Thinking giant monsters might have played themselves out, the studio decided to retire their super-sized gallery of beasties. But not until after one last hurrah, an epic kaiju film that would mash together many of their creations for one giant monster rumble. Thus, “Destroy All Monsters” was born, bringing together eleven of the studio’s most popular monsters. (Though a few interesting choices were left out, some rather understandably.)
Set in the then future year of 1999, “Destroy All Monsters” takes place in a near-utopian world. A global science league has established far ranging scientific advancements. A command base has been set up on the moon and rocket trips there are routine. Most pressingly, all the world’s monsters have been rounded up and placed on Ogasawara Island, subsequently renamed Monsterland. The peace of this future world is interrupted when the Killaks, invading aliens, attack Monsterland and take control of the daikaiju. The monsters are then siced on the world, destroying major cities. Astronaut Katsuo Yamabe and his rocket team are tasked with hunting down the aliens and their supporters while the scientists attempt to stop the monsters.
Despite its reputation as a non-stop monster brawl, large sections of “Destroy All Monsters” play out without the kaiju. Big portions of the plot revolve around Katsuo and his crack astronaut team. After the Killaks take over Monsterland, they float down in their rocket ship. After the aliens explain their plan to them, a fight breaks, the astronauts shooting at the alien-controlled mooks. They capture one of the controllers, attempting to interrogate him. This doesn’t go as well as planned, ending with a dramatic dive to a beach and another shoot-out. A major middle portion of the film involves the astronauts returning to the moon, trying to shut down the Killaks' operation. A lot of time is devoted to the astronauts driving around in a moon rover, blasting through a door, and attempting to burn through the controlling device with a malfunctioning laser.
As always though, the monsters are the main attraction. The kaiju smashing is mostly isolated to four major sequences. We get a brief introductory tour of Monsterland, meeting the critter cast, displaying the specific safe-guards put in place to control each monster. After that the invasion starts, the monsters are let loose. “Destroy All Monsters” has a more global reach then previous Toho creature features. A quick montage shows the monsters wrecking specific cities. Rodan blows away the Kremlin. Gorosaurus wrecks the Arc de Triomphe. Godzilla burns down UN HQ. Mothra, rampaging through Beijing, crushes a… random train? When so many previous entries took place solely in Japan, it’s a real treat to see Toho’s kaiju crashing specific landmarks from all over the world.
Of course, all the action shifting away from Tokyo is misdirection. Four different monsters converge on Japan’s capital. Godzilla, Rodan, Manda, and surprise guest star Mothra wreck the city. And it’s spectacular. Manda proves a surprisingly dynamic creature, slithering around a bridge, shattering it with his coils. While this happens in the foreground, Godzilla burns down a bay in the background. The military is powerless, naturally, missiles bouncing harmlessly off the monsters' hides. My favorite moment from this set piece is when Mothra comes up through the subway, exploding out of a building. For monster fans, it’s a great sequence and puts a strong exclamation point in the middle of the movie.
Weirdly, the movie keeps going after that deeply satisfying conclusion. Katsuo climbs into his rocket ship against for an air duel with one of the Killaks’ saucer. A burning shield around it, the UFO crashes through a building and makes a nuisance of itself. However, the SY-3 shuttle proves stronger then that, even surviving when the burning saucer attaches itself to the ship. I really like the shots of the astronauts inside the ship during this moment, especially when the camera whirls around them. It’s kind of a strange moment though, for the action to continue after King Ghidorah is vanquished and Godzilla does a field-goal kick into the alien’s base.
Plot wise, “Destroy All Monsters” owes a lot to previous monster-fest. As in “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero,” Earth’s kaiju are controlled by alien invaders. Both movies feature flying saucers floating above the giant monsters. The twist is that the Killaks only appear human-like. They look like Japanese women in chain link ponchos but are actually silver worm-like creatures, made of steel and weak against heat. Unlike the Planet X residents in “Monster Zero,” we never get a proper explanation for the aliens’ invasion plan. The Killaks want to take over Earth but never provide a reason why. The movie had an obvious effect on the Godzilla series, many of the future entries featuring aliens with human disguises hiding grotesque appearances.
Toho smartly brought back Ishiro Honda and Akira Ifukube for such an epic monster flick. Honda manages to sneak in a few memorable visuals. An interrogation is shown behind the strange, iron swirls on the wall. My favorite small moment involves the still Killak-controlled Kyoto smiling as the kaiju destroy Tokyo. Even if Honda was largely bored by these later kaiju flicks, he never let it show. As for Ifukube’s score, it’s a great bit of music. The heroes of the film are given a strong, militaristic score, driving and catchy. Ifukube manages to incorporate the monster’s traditional themes as well, blending the two fantastically.
The supporting cast of “Destroy All Monsters” has some stand-out players. Jun Tazaki has some campy fun as the head scientist on Earth. He cuts a stern figure, with his glasses and pencil mustache. Yet the infectious fun of the project gets to the actor too, like when he excitedly announces he’s taking back control of the monsters. Yukiko Kobayashi is also notable as Kyoko. She has good chemistry with Kubo during their earlier conversations. She actually manages to convey some sinister intent when under the alien’s control.
Of course, “Destroy All Monsters” wasn’t the last Godzilla film. The movie was a huge hit, reviving interest in the series and carrying it into the seventies. On one level, I would have missed the even crazier films of the late Showa period. On the other hand, this would have been a great note to take the series out on. Silly though it might be, “Destroy All Monsters” is massively entertaining and sure to please any monster fan. [Grade: B+]